Is the quota you assign to salespeople meaningless?

It’s September, also known as back to school time. My neighbors and I escort our children to the bus stop for the first day of the new school year. However, we’re puzzled about the location of the bus stop. It isn’t in the same place that it was in prior years. Instead of the children walking down the street, just a few houses, they now had to cross two, very active streets to get to the bus stop.

Vigilant, we parents made calls to get the stop moved back to where it was before. It seemed to be a fairly easy process. We called the administrator who coordinates the bus stops and he easily acquiesced. The supervisor of the bus drivers visited the bus stop and agreed with us about the safety concern. The administrator told us that the paperwork just needed to get signed by his boss, but to let the driver know the decision was made to move the bus stop back to the old location. Victory was ours. Or was it? We left someone out of the process and what occurred next will sound painfully familiar to any sales person who works in a complex, multi-buyer, sale.

After the conversation with the supervisor and administrator, we went to what we thought was the new, old bus stop. The bus turned down our street, we gave our kids a farewell kiss, and awaited their boarding of the bus. Here comes the bus. There goes the bus. The bus driver drove past us as if we weren’t even there. Needless to say, we were furious and got on the horn. All roads led to Jack (name changed) who is the ultimate decision-maker on bus stops. He had not been consulted on any of these discussions or decisions and was blind-sided by this situation. “I see no reason to change the stop from where I assigned it, he barked.” We immediately knew this was going to be problematic. With the urging of the school and the parents, he agreed to “re-assess” the bus stop.

Following his re-assessment, he called each of the parents to inform them of his decision. “Well, I don’t think the bus stop is unsafe, but I’m going to move it.” Don’t think for one second that he used this opportunity to say that the parents’ solution was better than his. Instead, he didn’t move the stop to the requested location. He moved it across the street from where we asked him to assign it. He even changed the entire bus route to accommodate for his solution, a tremendous amount of work for a small issue. However, assigning bus stops is Jack’s domain. He owns it. He’s responsible for it. He is in control. No one is going to tell Jack how to run his business. He is a thirty-year expert in bus safety. However, this wasn’t a decision on expertise, it was old-fashioned bravado, ego. And, it is not limited to bus stops. It impacts every sales person who needs to engage multiple people in the buying process to get the account awarded to them.

As I hung up the phone with Jack, it dawned on me. I coach sales people on how to work strategically in an account and we failed miserably in this circumstance. One of the perils I share with sales people is leaving the ultimate decision-maker out of the solution development process. Think about a sale that you lost, that you thought you were going to win. And, you thought you were going to win because you had a great relationship with the administrator. You and the administrator had crafted the entire solution in such a way that he could march into his boss’s office for the proverbial rubber stamp.

Many years ago, I learned, painfully, that there is no such thing as a rubber stamp. Many sales people hear “rubber stamp” and feel confident that they are working with the right person. “The sale is mine!” If anything, the rubber stamp is simply the fuse on a stick of dynamite. Better get under your desk, your deal is about to implode!

Here is what happens behind the scenes as your administrator visits with his boss. “Mr Jones, I’ve found a new supplier for our widgets. The sales rep is terrific. We’ve worked together and developed an ideal solution that makes everyone’s life easier and we’ll save 10% on our spending.” “Put it in my inbox,” says, Mr. Jones. Days become weeks as the administrator pings Mr. Jones about his rubber stamp, but no signature is forthcoming.

Finally, Mr. Jones develops an interest in his widget purchasing and surfs the web for potential suppliers. He meets with three of them and finds one to his liking. “This supplier is going to save the company 10.25%”. Guess who got the deal? However, the sales person never knows about this because the administrator is too embarrassed to call him. After all, the administrator said this was just a rubber stamp, you had been awarded the business. Communication with the administrator goes dark; he just stops responding to your emails and voicemails.

What sales people often forget is that as you go up the corporate ladder, business leaders maintain accountability for the lower rungs of their responsibility. Thus, they want to feel as if they are involved in the solution development phase, or at least be offered the opportunity to participate. When administrators fly into their office with what they feel is a great decision, they are rebuffed. And, for one core reason, EGO! While the administrator’s plan may very well be a great one, it is met with resistance for the simple reason that his manager was not invited to participate in the process. When he finally becomes interested enough to look at this issue, his goal becomes proving that there is a better deal to be had. In essence, this approach creates a saboteur of your deal.

If you are the sales person dealing with the administrator, how do you have the conversation where you share the concern of their manager not being involved in the process without offending? It takes a tremendous amount of finesse and strategic planning. However, if you truly have your client’s best interests at heart, it is easy. This is the ultimate key. If you are committed to ensuring that your clients achieve their goals, you can have this conversation. After all, you know that they won’t get what they want if you continue down this path.

You learn more about this strategy in Soar!